Following the Brussels attacks on Tuesday, the Iraqi and Syrian militaries began two assaults against the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) on Thursday, in the key cities of Mosul and Palmyra. The U.S.-led international coalition is providing air support in the attack on Mosul, while the Syrian army is proceeding in a precise and organized way to retake Palmyra.
The Iraqi offensive against Mosul may be premature. As the Associated Press reported, Iraqi and U.S. officials refrained to give a specific time when the Mosul attack could begin, because it would take many months to prepare Iraq’s struggling military to retake the city. Some officials have said it would not even be possible to retake it this year, despite declarations to the contrary by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, fell to ISIS in June 2014. 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, Mosul became the largest city in the Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate.
The Joint Military Command spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool announced that Iraqi forces retook several villages on the outskirts of the town of Makhmour to the east of Mosul, early Thursday morning. This announcement came days after the United States announced it has set up a small Marine artillery outpost in Northern Iraq to protect an Iraqi base in Makhmour. On Saturday, militants fired two rockets at the base, killing a U.S. Marine.
Political pressure is mounting for Iraq’s Prime Minister al-Abadi to show victory, but sources say there may not be enough troops available to make the assault successful. Coalition and Iraqi officials estimate that eight to twelve brigades — an estimated 24,000 to 36,000 troops, will be required. So far, only 2,000 to 3,000 Iraqi troops have been deployed at Makhmour base.
In Syria, signs are more hopeful. Syrian forces entered the ancient city of Palmyra on Thursday, after months of ISIS control. “We might witness in the next 48 hours an overwhelming victory in Palmyra,” Gov. Talal Barazi told reporters. “The army is advancing in a precise and organized way to protect what is possible of monuments and archaeological sites.”
A victory in Palmyra would end the stream of shocking graphic photos of the destruction of the ancient city, the capital of a historic empire and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
No reports have confirmed whether these attacks are aimed as a response to the terror in Brussels, for which the Islamic State claimed responsibility.